Dublin survive late Meath rally to retain Leinster title
MEMORIES of 1991 and Meath's dramatic recovery in the fourth game of the epic joust with Dublin were refreshed on a number of levels in Croke Park yesterday as the Leinster final took a dramatic twist in the final 10 minutes of a contest which appeared to be all wrapped up in blue coming up to the hour mark.
The warriors of 1991, who had earlier been introduced to the crowd, watched as Meath summoned up their trademark defiance to underpin a steely revival, which cut Dublin's nine-point lead down to three in the 68th minute.
Jamie Queeney's goal -- after Meath had kicked three unanswered points -- had Dublin nerves jangling, but Man-of-the-Match Bernard Brogan scored a crucial point which left Meath needing 1-1 to draw level.
The point arrived, courtesy of Graham Reilly, and Meath drove on desperately in search of the levelling goal but, unlike '91, the Dublin defence held out. Stephen Cluxton made a late save from Brian Farrell, ensuring that the Leinster title stayed in Dublin for the seventh time in eight seasons.
It was a fully merited win, but no doubt this week's debrief will address the vital issue of how what should have been a relatively straightforward close-out over the final 10 minutes turned into a near disaster.
Did Dublin become complacent or was it a case of Meath finally functioning in the ultra-efficient manner which earned them such an impressive win over Kildare in the semi-final? In truth, it was probably a combination of both, which will leave Pat Gilroy and Seamus McEnaney with much to reflect on.
Gilroy won't be happy that all the enterprise and cohesion of the first hour came so close to being squandered as Dublin retreated into their own half, inviting Meath onto them. The Royals accepted the invitation, driving relentlessly at a Dublin defence that became so rattled that they looked altogether different to the compact unit which had restricted Meath to seven points for three-quarters of the game.
When James McCarthy pointed to put Dublin 2-11 to 0-7 ahead after 53 minutes, Meath supporters must have been worried that not only would their side be well beaten, but that serious psychological damage would be inflicted ahead of the qualifier game.
Dublin were playing so well that a Meath revival appeared most unlikely, but gradually the mood changed. Graham Reilly's direct runs at the Dublin defence began to yield dividends and, with Joe Sheridan winning lots of possession further out, Meath established a whole new momentum.
It took them quite a long way down the road to recovery, but Dublin held on, albeit far less comfortably than should have been the case. For Meath, it's a case of trying to work through their frustrations as quickly as possible in order to give themselves every chance of relaunching their All-Ireland ambitions next weekend.
The battling finish will certainly encourage them, but there were negative aspects of yesterday's performance which will be addressed in training this week.
In particular, they will be especially disappointed with the defensive cave-in which saw them concede two goals in first-half stoppage time.
They were trailing 0-7 to 0-5 as the game ticked past the 35th minute, a deficit which wouldn't have concerned them all that much. Indeed, they would have been pleased to be as close, as early on it looked as if they might be completely over-run.
Meath scored first when Graham Reilly's bounding run finished with a point in the third minute, but Dublin's response was quick and effective. They scored the next six points to lead by five at the end of the first quarter before Meath settled into their own routine and began to ask tough questions of the Dublin defence.
Both sides suffered first-half setbacks with Kevin Reilly (25th minute) and Alan Brogan (29th minute) being forced out through injury. Brogan had already helped himself to two points and appeared to be heading for a really big performance, while Reilly was also going well prior to his departure.
The game turned on events just before the break when first, Bernard Brogan and then Denis Bastick got in for Dublin goals. Sub Eoghan O'Gara played Brogan in and before Hill 16 had finished their celebration for Dublin's first goal, midfielder Bastick found himself in space close to the Meath goal and he beat David Gallagher with an expert finish.
Bastick had one of his best days in a Dublin jersey, while Brogan continues to be their main finisher, helping himself to 1-7 -- 1-3 from open play.
Trailing by 2-7 to 0-5 at half-time, Meath's plight looked desperate and didn't improve throughout a third quarter where they were outscored by 0-4 to 0-2.
Both defences had narrow escapes in that period, first when Stephen Cluxton was called on to make a fine save from Farrell and then when Macauley hit the Meath post, after a flowing move had opened up the defence.
The game appeared to be heading to an inevitable conclusion before taking an unexpected turn as Meath raised the stakes. In the end, though, it wasn't quite enough as Dublin had enough to see them through in a nervous finish.
For Meath, there's the consolation of a second chance in the qualifiers, although history is not on their side as only one from 13 contenders have won a qualifier tie on the weekend after losing a provincial final.
Still, on the plus side, Meath will be boosted by the manner in which they rallied so bravely. Laois are not as good as Dublin, so, provided yesterday's game hasn't taken too much out of Meath in a physical sense, there's every chance that they will rejoin the All-Ireland race for the quarter-finals.
Dublin are already there and while Gilroy certainly won't be happy with the last 10 minutes, there was plenty to admire up to then.
Four of the starting forwards were replaced in the course of the game (Alan Brogan was the only one injured), but then Dublin are in the happy position of having high-quality back-up.
O'Gara impressed as Brogan's replacement and with the suspended Diarmuid Connolly also back in contention for a starting place in the quarter-finals, Gilroy has a wide range of options. It's a happy place to be as August action beckons.
Scorers -- Dublin: B Brogan 1-7 (4f); D Bastick 1-0, A Brogan, E O'Gara 0-2 each, K McManamon, J McCarthy 0-1 each. Meath: B Farrell 0-7 (6f), G Reilly 0-3, J Queeney 1-0; S Bray, J Sheridan ('45'), D Tobin 0-1 each.
Dublin: S Cluxton 8; M Fitzsimons 7, R O'Carroll 7, P McMahon 7; J McCarthy 8, K Nolan 7, C O'Sullivan 7; E Fennell 7, D Bastick 8; P Flynn 6, A Brogan 7, B Cullen 7; B Brogan 9, MD Macauley 7, K McManamon 6. Subs: E O'Gara 8 for A Brogan (29), P Andrews 6 for McManamon (48), B Cahill 6 for Fennell (57), C Dias 6 for Flynn (60), P Brogan for Cullen (65).
Meath: D Gallagher 7; D Keogan 8, K Reilly 7, M Burke; 7 D Tobin 6, S McAnarney 7, B Menton 6; C Gillespie 6, G Reilly 8; A Forde 5, D Carroll 5, B Meade 5; B Farrell 7, J Sheridan 8, S Bray 6. Subs: E Harrington 7 for Reilly (25), C Ward 7 for Forde (28), P Byrne 6 for Carroll (ht), J Queeney 7 for Meade (48), M Collins 6 for Bray (57).
Ref -- M Duffy (Sligo).